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Don’t let rejection make you doubt yourself or your skills.
Rejection is something that every professional creative will face in their lifetime—most likely a multitude of times.
By leaning into rejection, it is possible to learn more about your audience, build your confidence, and become a better creative.
If you face rejection, it means you are being seen by someone. Take a moment to be proud of yourself for having the confidence to put your art out there, and recognize that rejection often means you are pushing your own limits.
After you have given yourself the proper acknowledgment for the act of courage it takes to put creative work in a public space, move forward by keeping these dos and don'ts in mind.
The thing about making a living out of creative work is that you have to continually put your work up for the scrutiny of others in order to find opportunities.
Whether you are approaching companies for commissions, applying for creative opportunities or posting personal projects on social media, it can typically make you feel quite vulnerable to criticism.
The self-worth of creative professionals is typically tied to producing great content and products. In this case, rejection can be even more painful.
It is impossible to avoid rejection entirely, but there are strategies and techniques to cope with it and sometimes utilize it as a creative advantage.
Here are five different strategies for handling rejection and even how you can turn an unpleasant experience into a positive one!
Allowing yourself to feel and experience the pain of rejection is a form of healing.
Don’t let your work take over who you are as a person.
Remember that rejection is not a reflection of who you are at your core. It may feel like you bared your soul with your work, and rejection of your work can often feel like a rejection of you as a person.
This is when it is a good time to take a step back.
Believe it or not, your work doesn’t define you. If you feel like it does, it might be a good time to re-evaluate your work-life balance and try establishing some better boundaries.
When you face rejection, you should not let it make you feel bad about who you are as a person. Remember that sometimes you need to leave your work in the workspace.
Do acknowledge the pain of rejection.
Pretending that rejection doesn’t hurt will only prolong the pain of it all. Most people want to move as quickly away from uncomfortable emotions as they can.
But, the most successful artists know that by acknowledging that rejection made them feel vulnerable or hurt helps them move on from it.
If you are struggling to admit the sting of rejection out loud, try writing down a few things that you felt upon receiving the news.
Then, write down a list of five or six things that you were successful at in the last week and five things you want to achieve in the next week. This will help you remember that one failure is not a complete failure and set you back on track to keep achieving.
Make sure you’ve considered context
Be aware of the context you have received the rejection in.
- Was it a bad time for the company you contacted?
- Were they busy or preoccupied?
- Had you been hounding them for months and starting to piss them off?
They may have had a dozen other illustrators contact them that day, or they may be in the middle of a deadline. Try to get into the other person’s shoes and understand that there could be other factors at play.
I was once gutted that a creative director gave feedback that I didn't have any typography skills – it was only months later when I reassessed my portfolio that I realized I had only put illustration work in it.
How were they supposed to know I was skilled in other areas if I didn’t show it in my work? Don’t assume people have checked out your website or profiles before they meet with you – make your first impression count.
Look for consistency
If you’re repeatedly getting the same feedback, then you may need to listen up. There’s no point flogging a dead horse. We’re not simply talking about a repeated ‘no’ here though, it is more specific than that.
If you’re repeatedly being told that your use of color isn’t working, for example, go take some time to try out new color palettes.
If the same thing keeps coming up about how you can’t draw hands very well, go and fill a sketchbook with studies of hands (it’s not rocket science).
Keep a log of when you get positive feedback or which pieces of work get the most response when you post them, and see if you can start to implement more of the same.
Use rejection to become more creative.
Psychologically, rejection can mess with our heads. So you’ll need to detach yourself from your work enough to realize that rejection is necessary and sometimes welcome to create a masterpiece.
By harnessing the emotions that come with rejection, you can channel this power to succeed. This trademark is characteristic of successful athletes, investors, and creatives from every walk of life. How many origin stories begin with rejection? Too many to count.
Letting rejections fuel your fire and pushIf you’re repeatedly being told that your use of color isn’t working, for example, go take some time to try out new color palettes.If you’re repeatedly being told that your use of color isn’t working, for example, go take some time to try out new color palettes. you forward can even help redirect your energies into something much better than your initial concept. Remember the rejection, but don’t let it make you spiteful. Always stay humble but driven.
Rejections aren’t always reflective of your talent
There are plenty of reasons for rejection. Maybe you weren’t the right fit for the job (or the timing was off), your creative style doesn’t match the brand aesthetics, or the agencies you’re contacting aren’t the right fit for your niche.
Unless you’re explicitly told the cause is a quality issue, whatever the reason for rejection, it probably isn’t. And we can take solace in that.